British Standards Institute and Disability Rights Commission Launch Web Accessibility Guidelines

MicroAngelo and other web accessibility evangelists have successfully started to turn the tide of awareness so that more managers understand their statutory responsibility to make their websites accessible to disabled users, as outlined in the Disability Discrimination Act as "reasonable adjustments". As accessibility experts, we've been asked time and time again "what is reasonable?" and "does the UK Governement have any guidelines to help us know what to do?" - and now the Government's Disability Rights Commission and the British Standards Institute have come together to respond to those questions.

The Disability Rights Commission

A month ago, on the 8th of March, 2006, the Disability Rights Commision (DRC) and the British Standards Institute (BSI) launched a new set of guidelines, with the catchy title of "Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 78 - Guide to Good Practice in Commissioning Accessible Websites". MicroAngelo were invited by the DRC to the event, held over a day in the Novotel in London, and were delighted to attend.

The British Standards Institute

The first thing to note from the document's title is the target audience: this is a guide to commissioning accessible websites, not a guide to building them. It was made very clear that this document contains no new standards for accessible web development. Indeed, as espoused by MicroAngelo, the correct set of international standards to follow are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) defined by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). "The PAS 78 is not in conflict with WAI guidelines" said Julie Howell of the RNIB, Technical Author of the PAS, "they are still the ones to be followed."

With so many positive reasons for web accessibility it is often said "so many carrots and just one stick", with the legal requirements of the DDA being the stick. But is was nice to hear from the speakers at the event of so many real-world carrots: David Rhys Wilton of Legal & General showed the amazing results of remaking their site in an accessible way with a new Content Management System (CMS):

  • 30% increase of natural search engine traffic within just 4 days
  • Significant improvements in Google rankings for all keywords
  • 75% increase in page download speed
  • The CMS reduced the time required for typical content management tasks to a tenth
  • Saving of £200k p.a. on maintenance, a reduction of two thirds
  • 95% increase in number of visitors getting a Life Insurance quote
  • 90% increase of people taking out Life Insurance online

For them 100% return on investment (ROI) came in under 5 months! Nick Lansley, one of the founders of Tesco.com, told the tale of how back in 1999 he decided to make a "segregated" accessible version of the shopping site, but found many non-disabled customers were using it because it naturally had better usability. Other advantages included the fact that it worked with old web browsers, different operating systems, PDAs, Pocket PCs, Amstrad's e-mailer, smartphones, set top boxes... all as a free "side effect". Now they've relaunched Tesco.com using the same approach as we at MicroAngelo use: one site, multiple skins and accessible practices.

All case studies stated how imperative user testing was, something that MicroAngelo strongly agree with. At MicroAngelo we use a User-Centred Design Process, defining the target user groups for the project and setting test tasks to evaluate the project as we go along. For example, in the Tesco.com project one of the test metrics was that a user had to be able to purchase an average "trolley" in 15 minutes.

Finally, it was recommended that organisations have Web Accessibility Audits, both before and after a major redesign. MicroAngelo's Web Accessibility Experts can produce a written audit and give a presentation to managers in non-technical terms. Please contact us to find out more about our Web Accessibility Auditing services.

25th April 2006

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